Friday, December 15, 2017

It was supposed to be simple

My saddle saga continues.

The Cashel was a bust.  It fit his withers and shoulders just fine, but it rocked.  Lifted front and back.  I'm sure I could have thrown a special pad on, but what's the point in buying a brand new saddle with a noticeable rock?  It's not like I'm trying to make my horse back sore.  So it was out of it's box for a total of ten minutes.  Back in it went and on Monday, it ships back to the store.  Ugh.

We threw a western saddle that was sitting around on him, but it was a full QH bar and dropped right down on his withers.  In a moment of desperation, I asked the barn manager to let me see her saddle again.  The one I plopped on Theo back when I started shopping and went 'huh, this won't be too hard'.  The random, cheap saddle she got used for her 14.3 hand mustang mare.

It's tiny, probably a 15" seat.  That's a 32" pad underneath it and it looks ridiculous.  It's an Easy Rider from Action Company which is a company that's slowly but surely been gobbling up other saddelries.  It's not a high end saddle.  Probably a barrel saddle that's about the same age as me.

It was picked up cheap and has been sitting, unused, for months.  I set it on Theo's back with no pads and it just dropped into place.  No floating, no rocking, nothing.  Just boom, there it sits.  It might be a hair narrow for him, but everyone that ran their hand under the points went 'no, it feels good, and it's nicely behind his shoulder blade'.  I threw the pad on, tightened up the cinch, and took it for a spin.

The seat is a little small for me, but he sure moves happily in it.  And the barn manager shrugged and said 'use it all you want, you can have it if it works'.  She doesn't currently have a horse and it's a saddle that doesn't fit a lot of stock type horses.

Yes, I'm riding in a halter again.  And I'm holding a foam ice cream cone in my right hand.  I'm still not sure why Trainer A handed it to me.  They use them with kids to help them not turn their hands over while riding, but I was riding left handed .  .  .  Some days I just don't ask.  I mean, it's not like the image of Theo jogging around in a halter and way too big pad under a barrel saddle with me in my lesson attire was going to get any weirder.

Random picture of turkeys we chased slowly down the road during our hack out

So . . . huh.  That was an unexpected twist.  Now I have to really, honestly consider my next move.  I did order up a 28" long, 1/2" thick wool pad to go under the barn manager's saddle so I can use it.  It's nice that the fit is close enough that I want to go for a thinner pad.  If it fits nice with a 3/4" fluffy pad, it's probably going to fit even better with the 1/2" wool felt pad and I won't have that little worry about it being too narrow.  My hands slide right under it just fine with no pad on, so long as I remember the concho is the point of the saddle and get that back behind the point of his shoulder.

This doesn't help my saddle hunt in terms of finding a match since the saddlery no longer exists.  And I'd like to get a saddle that I can post comfortably in, this saddle is a little too small for that.  I'm going to talk to the saddle fitter again and see what her next suggested move is.  But at the same time, I am getting tired of paying for shipping to keep returning saddles.  If I exchange for another saddle, no restocking fee.  If I don't?  5% restocking fee.  So that's also weighing in to the decision, since this little saddle is hard as a board.  It's not perfect.  But it's free, and it's here, and it appears to fit.

I may just eat the restocking fee and let myself have a break from the saddle shopping and shipping.  Ride in this one for a bit, see if Theo likes it.  It's not a bad saddle.  And it'll encourage me to stay on my diet . . . 

The challenge of doing nothing

Last Friday Trainer A suggested we have a lunge line session.  I said yes, whole heartedly and loudly.  I love lunge line lessons, but I hate asking for them because I've taught enough to know how miserable it can be to turn on the spot for 30 minutes.  I always got the spins.

I got chucked on the lunge line with no reins or stirrups.  Our goal?  Transitions with no leg or hand.  Using just my seat, I needed to adjust the trot and walk.  Canter?  We just wanted him to canter forward nicely with minimal nagging.  With nothing else to worry about, I could really focus on my hips and seat.  I felt how they were swinging and then took control of them to get my horse forward and back based just off of how my butt and his back interacted.

Mary Wanless has a concept of a butt print.  It's the idea that your butt leaves a print on every horse you ride and the more you ride the same horse, the more your horse shapes to your butt print.  I am now trying to make my butt more than white noise to my horse.  I'm trying to make him listen to my butt, which requires me to not generate that white noise.

It was interesting how my free hands and lack of stirrups highlighted my balance issues.  Your left seat bone is perfectly fine, Catie, try sitting on it!  It's a toss up on who is causing our bracing to the left.  Could be my damaged joints on that side, could be his weak right hind.  Chicken, egg, etc. 

Dat neck, though

Could I stop and start without hands or legs?  Mostly.  I kind of feel like I'm cheating, practicing downward transitions with Theo.  It's his default setting.  Transitions within the gait and downward transitions off of the seat were doable.  Transitions upward between the gaits require a touch of leg and always will.  It's how his pony brain understands I don't want more within the gait, I want a new gait.  My old h/j habits showed up when my hip closed in the canter transition.  It took me staring at the ceiling and a hand on my hip for me to keep that angle open through the transition.  I knew I had it when I felt the pull through my lower back and Theo stepped right into a full size canter stride.

Trainer A wants to do more of these, especially in the dead of winter when Theo breaking a sweat is bad.  I'm entirely on board.  I can be tortured quite effectively without my horse having to do too much work.  He was mentally working, becoming aware that my seat actually meant something, but he barely had a sweat mark under his saddle.

A cold front came through, complete with a storm, so poor Theo has barely been worked this week.  My lesson today should be very amusing for spectators. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Worthy of Theo

A couple of fitness posts have convinced me to post an update on my own fitness journey/struggle/brawl.

Last year I ran a 5k and kinda liked it.  I liked the camaraderie, the post workout endorphins, . . . the beer.

Almost every road race in the region includes a free beer

Mostly the beer.  The hubby and I do home brewing and are actually members of a very active home brew club.  We've helped steward and judge at beer competitions.  I'm very new at it while the hubby has been doing this for years.  We kegged my first solo beer last weekend (a weisenbock) and it actually came out good.

But back on the original point, I ran a 5k and didn't hate it too much.  When registration for the event opened up for 2018, I went ahead and signed up.  Then realized I hadn't run since I started my job hunt in early spring.  Whoops.  Time to get on that.  Also time to address the jump in my weight that came with my new office based job.  Sitting at a desk for eight hours and only riding three or four times a week did not keep up with my dietary habits.  I jumped about ten pounds.  Yikes.  My breeches weren't fitting right. 

At the end of October, I hit a new high for my weight and that was the tipping point.  I needed to stop the climb and hopefully shed some of the new poundage.  It's not fair to ride Theo when I'm unfit and overly chubby. 

My motivation

I signed up for a weight loss app and got a treadmill.  I brought my diet back under control, started eating on a regular schedule, and started ramping up my steps.  Let's face it, I love food too much to cut out all the good stuff.  Better to burn more than to really crank down the calorie count.  I hate rabbit food.  Running is awful, but it sure does burn the calories.

As of today, I'm down fifteen pounds from my peak weight.  I'm doing 10k steps a day very consistently.  I've already registered for three little road races in January and February, it will probably end up being four.  I got fitted for better sneakers at a running shop and ended up joining their running club.  Starting Jan 3, I'll be doing running training on Wednesday nights.  They also had to special order my sneakers because I'm a weird size.  6 wide?  Yeah, that's me.  When they put me on the little foot scanner thing, the employee looked at it, looked at my feet, then looked at me and said 'really?'.  Yes, really.  Don't judge my weird little feet.  This is why I hate shopping for riding boots.  Wide calves, tiny square shaped feet.

You'd think the wide base would make me less prone to tipping over, but nope.  I am klutzy as fuck when not in the saddle.  And frequently klutzy while in the saddle.

So many bruises

I still hate running.  It's an act of will to get on the treadmill every time.  On my weight loss app, one of the first exercises was to pick a big picture to hang on to for when you're having a setback.  A lot of people posted about clothes they could fit into or looking good for an event.  My big picture is me trotting down centerline, fit enough to not get out of breath during the canter work.  And wearing a jacket that buttons closed nicely.  And not jiggling.  I want to be a rider that's worthy of her partner.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


I think I've come up with a piece of equipment that will actually help my dressage.

I see a market for this.  I need a Kickstarter.

While I work on the proof of concept, I'm working on getting his butt down the slower, harder way.  The fun thing that came out of my western dressage gone full dressage clinic was some work on getting Theo to tilt his pelvis and really sit.  He's now strong enough to try it, but he's pretty sure he can't do it. 

I love the fact that his new 'omg I can't' reaction is to break to the walk as opposed to throwing an ever loving temper tantrum.  We still get little moments of curling and 'ugggggh, woman!', but he's definitely turned the corner on being willing to give it a shot.  He trusts that I won't push too far and that there will be cookies in the end.  He gets the confused, flicking ears, but he doesn't throw down and quit the way he used to.

After a nice, long, low, stretchy warm up, I picked him up.  And then I asked him to come up a bit higher in front of the withers without bracing or sticking his nose out.  Oh, and without laying on my hands.  Tough, but doable.  Then I asked him to take some smaller steps.  Smaller, papi.  Not slower.  Smaaaaller.  The ears start flicking and he starts wondering what this is all about, but he tries.  We can get 7 - 10 steps of short, sitting trot right now without dramatics or inversion.  Yay!  Then he gets to go low again and trot around the ring nice and big.

It's amazing how asking him to sit changes the trot we get afterward.  He stretches out over that topline and has some forward momentum because that's so easy compared to what I just asked him to do.  We do a set going one way, stretch, a set going the other way, stretch, just like his old weight lifting exercises.  We're also working very, very hard on me not over riding with my leg.  I touch him, he goes, I take my leg off.  If he goes forward, I say nothing.  It gives him a way to make me leave him the heck alone.  Theo likes it when I leave him the heck alone.

Between engaging the hind end, the increased laterals, and my improving discipline with the leg aids, the canter is coming back.  It's still hard for him and he wants to throw his head down and lay on his shoulders.  Right now I just want a steady canter with a nice contact.  I'm not asking for power, just carry the canter on your own and keep your head somewhere near normal.  With your nose in.  Last night I half halted and he maintained the canter while on his left lead.  I nearly cried.  I wasn't kicking and he was still cantering even with the request to shorten up.  Not very forward (Trainer A would be losing it if she saw me cantering that slowly), but it was positive and gave me a chance to really reward the try and make it a pleasant experience for him.  Positive training has a downside.  He didn't want to step back into the trot because there are less clicks in trot.  Hm.  Might need to address that in the future.

I'm enjoying this new focus on his hind end.  He's now strong enough and light enough that I can ask him to actually tilt his pelvis.  It's a visible change in the way his butt looks in the mirrors.  I tried to get video but my camera tipped and it was five minutes of the arena ceiling with me saying 'good boy!' and 'little more, papi' a lot. 

I know I thought I was learning collection before, but this is a whole different ball game.  It's going to take forever, but at least we're enjoying the journey this time.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The saga of the saddle

Just a quick update on my saddle shopping.  While I was visiting my friend and playing dress up with my horse, a Dale Martin Ranch Cutter fit Theo surprisingly well.  It had enough room for his shoulders but didn't lay on his withers.  Flare through the shoulders, something something my horse is a freak.

The downside?  That thing is a monster.  At least 40 pounds and long enough to almost touch Theo's hip.  Way too much saddle for my use.  Even when Theo gets to meet cattle this summer (cow camp in June!), it won't be a roping or cutting exercise.  They said I could go in my dressage saddle if I want.  I couldn't lift this dang saddle on my own.  It was pathetic.  I needed help and poor Theo had to stand there while I struggled to get the thing clear of his withers.

But the tree seemed to suit him.  I didn't see any Dale Martin saddles that were short enough for Theo while being appropriate for western dressage.  The barrel saddles were short enough, but feet way out in front.  Bummer.  But they do make a line of saddles on the same Axis tree called Cashel.

Skirt is only 26" long and it weighs 25 pounds.  Score!  It has nice flare in the shoulders while keeping the gullet at 6.5" wide.  This should help with the problem where the wide tree had too wide of a gullet but the medium tree had too narrow of a shoulder angle.

Fun fact!  In a western saddle, when you move up to wide, the whole gullet gets a half inch wider.  Sit down on the withers much?

It's not nearly as fancy.  I'll admit to being sad to not have that rich, mahogany color and all of that beautiful tooling.  The tree is not a fancy flex anything.  The fenders are not preturned.  This is meant to be a saddle you go out and ride in.  It will definitely serve my purpose and if Theo is happy, I'm happy.  It should be going in the mail today or tomorrow.  And it's about $700 cheaper than the Circle Y.

But then I was on horsesaddleshop today while bored at work and what do I see?  New models of Dale Martin including this beauty.

OMG WANT.  And it's a shorter skirt.  And only weighs 28 lbs because it's a single skirt (I'm learning all sorts of new things).  UGGGGGH.  But it's a $3K saddle and capable of holding up through team roping.  That's a lot of saddle.  I should really figure out if I like this western dressage thing before I invest in that beauty, right?  Or maybe I can find one used?

I'm currently convincing myself to try the Cashel that is already ON THE WAY and see how I like it.  And if I like it?  Then try this western dressage thing.  The Cashel's have decent resale value, it can be the down payment on the Dale Martin upgrade if I decide I need it.  I mean, I already know I need it, but I should see if Theo needs it by trying the tree on him for awhile. 

The seat is blue and quilted.  I'm so in love.

Hide my credit card.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fluff butt

It's that time again.  Time to clip the pony yet again.  I feel terrible plotting to strip him naked when the temps are about to drop another 15*, but he's been puffing a bit lately so it's got to go.  Despite all of my clipping, he's got more hair than half the horses in the barn that have gone unclipped.

I don't know who hates clip day more, me or Theo.  Actually, I think my boobs hate it the most.  My bra is the most amazing hair trap and even with a rain coat zipped all the way up, torture.  Horse hair garments used to be an act of penance.  I understand that.  Completely and intimately.

Monday, December 4, 2017

French and German

This came up in my clinic on Saturday.  It's something I've heard in a couple of different places, but it's not something I've put a lot of thought into.

Caveat: This was presented to me in a 'the TRUTH of TRUE dressage' sort of way, so many grains of salt will be needed.

I mentioned my interest in western dressage being based in not wanting to hustle along a horse that really doesn't want to power along like WB.  Short back, short stride, heavy shoulders.  Limits.  We haz them.  But he's really cute and does try for me.  I wanted to try him in a discipline where harmonious, calm, light, and obedient will trump fantastic movement.  It's a little heart breaking to know we'll never see big scores in standard dressage no matter how hard we work.  And I know it takes power and balance to do a collected jog, don't get me wrong, but it seems like a kind of power that won't make Theo blow his top or refuse to play.  He likes to be powerful.  He does not like to extend.

"Sounds suspiciously like work, mom"

I trotted for a minute and she announced with great conviction 'I know exactly why your horse won't extend.  He doesn't like being off balance and he's too on his shoulders to extend right now'.

Well, yeah.  Duh.  I've been working on shifting his weight back for nearly three years.  But I'm going to just nod and go along with this because she doesn't know me and from what I hear, she rarely teaches anyone with a formal dressage background.  I also love to collect tools for my toolbox and as Theo hasn't read any of the books on how to correctly horse (whip tap means slow down in his little pony mind, for fuck's sake), I need all the help I can get.

This was when she started explaining that western dressage is based on French training while competition dressage is based on German training.  German training starts with getting your horse as big and forward as possible, then brings them back to collection using lateral movements.  French training starts with balance and lightness, then adds the bigger forward.  French training includes 'classical' dressage and the Spanish style of dressage.  It suits short backed horses that aren't made to be huge movers, the ones that can piaffe all day but find extensions challenging.  German training is better suited for ground devouring WBs that take the bit and soften because they were bred for it.

She really, really didn't like German dressage.  She really thought the more physical ride didn't suit 95% of the population and set a lot of people up for failure.  She prefers to focus on balance and keeping them as light in the hand and leg as possible.  French is apparently coming more into fashion when you see the much lighter contacts in the GP ring.  By her defintion, Vitor Silva is French.  I don't think he'd be happy to be called French, but she did qualify that 'French' was a misnomer and it covers a lot of western Europe.

The idea is that western dressage is focused on lightness and harmony.  Even on the score sheets, submission is replaced with harmony.  Gotta say, I like that.  A calm, accurate, obedient test is what they're looking for.  After all, a working ranch horse is useless if it's bouncing about with lots of power and expression but can't halt and stand.

I personally feel like clumping dressage into these two 'schools' is a massive oversimplification.  I usually hear it from a clinician or trainer trying to explain how they train TRUE dressage while the others are leading me astray (or worse, depending on the level of preaching going on).  It's a spectrum and most trainers are actually in between these two schools.  I've heard it in enough places to be familiar with the two concepts and to have a good idea of what I'm going to hear if someone uses it to describe their training.  It gives me a rough guess on whether or not they'll suit my horse.

With Fiona, the German way of training was the way to go.  She wanted to move, ate up the ground in her gaits, and wanted to reach to the bit.  She would lengthen any time I let her, I had to ask her to come back.  German focused trainers loved her and she worked well with them. 

Exactly one setting:  GO

With Theo?  Yeah, that's not happening.  He needs to learn to sit and develop power while keeping his jaw relaxed and his back lifted.  Then we'll have an extension.  Not an 8, but a solid 6.  Vitor has been, hands down, the best fit for Theo in terms of understanding how his pony brain works and his body moves.

He's thinking about nap time in this picture

So I can't say that I'm a student of one school or the other.  It depends on the horse I'm sitting on.  But it does help me understand why some trainers have more success with Theo.  He's not a WB.  He'll never be a WB.  We'll always aim for our obedience and accuracy marks because our impulsion and extension scores will be low.

Which school is better?  Neither.  I've seen both go off the rails and I've seen both succeed.  I don't believe in absolutes.  Pick and choose from all schools to find the combination that suits your horse.  For Theo?  It's a good thing I took French in high school.

Je veux que mon cheval aille de l'avant, s'il vous plaƮt